I grew up despising the capitalist system. Living in societies where inequality was vivid, the system never made sense to me. College didn’t help either - most of my friends hated the word, capitalism. So when deciding an organizational structure for Bean Voyage, we struggled to find a structure to box ourselves inside. Our goal was to create an organization that did honest work to disrupt the traditional coffee industry to support farmers around the world. What would be an ideal structure that could achieve this goal without succumbing to the capitalist system?
Non Profit was a good start but then we’d have to depend on donations from philanthropists who’ve likely have earned their wealth from the type of businesses that we weren’t trying to become. Private company didn’t work because it had the profit incentive which kills intrinsic motivation for social change. Then there was the cooperative model but even cooperatives cater to larger corporations. It was frustrating. Then I met Ashley, a mentor in Colorado who said, “just do what you gotta do, and you’ll figure out the structure eventually”.
That is exactly what we’ve tried to do: instead of focusing on a traditional label, we’re creating a culture that puts farmers first; instead of being defined by labels and certification, we are working to create a transparent and honest stream of communication directly with the farmers and the consumers. The most important piece: we’re making sure farmers earn more than we do. It never really made sense to us how many enterprises call themselves ‘socially woke’ but then end up making 10-15 times more than the farmers they work with. Isn’t it the whole point to make sure that the ones in the bottom of the totem pole get a larger share of the whole pie? How is the CEO of TOMS shoes worth 300 million dollars and the people they’re supposedly helping earning only a fraction from the venture?
It’s really difficult to have a socialist ideology in a world that is structured around capitalism. But if we spend more time creating a transparent system rather than labelling ourselves, then I believe we’ll be more fitted to the ideology that promotes equality in the world.
We’ve learned through our work that instead of playing within the system, we should just create our own system. A system that’s directly connecting consumers and producers of coffee while ensuring that the farmers earn the most of the final revenue. So what if that means that we, as a venture aren’t making a million every year? We’re privileged young people with a safety net that allowed us to start this venture in the first place. We’re not the ones in dire need for aid and that’s something that hopefully more and more social enterprises will start to remember.
Bottom line: Yes, a socialist ideology can thrive in a capitalist system, but only by working around the system instead of giving into it.